Thirty Meter Telescope Construction in Hawaii Postponed Because Opponents Want to Preserve “Sacred” Land April 13, 2015

Thirty Meter Telescope Construction in Hawaii Postponed Because Opponents Want to Preserve “Sacred” Land

Construction on Hawaii’s Thirty Meter Telescope, which would have the ability to see 13 billion light-years away, is postponed for the time being because protesters believe it’s being built on “sacred” land:

According to an online petition now signed by more than 40,000 people,

Truly respecting the host culture of this land means respecting the sacred places that that culture has held in reverence for millennia. Doing so lays a good foundation for genuine healing of the longstanding historic wrongs that continue to affect the well-being of everyone in Hawaiʻi. You have an opportunity to begin a great healing process right now, and to turn the future of Hawai’i toward one that is truly pono.

We urge you to take this opportunity, for all of Hawaiʻi and the world.

Please protect Mauna Kea.

A blockade has been created by protesters to the point where workers can’t build anything, so construction has been postponed at least until next Monday:

“Our ancestors believed that there were numerous gods and goddesses and Mauna Kea was their temple. They feel strongly that his will disrupt their temple,” says protestor Isa Center. “In Hawaii the land is precious to our people. It’s a very strong cultural protest.”

This isn’t just a science versus superstition debate. It’s a question of clinging to knowledge of the past versus learning about the future in a way that enhances our connection to the world. We have the possibility of learning more about how we came to be as a result of this telescope, and that potential knowledge is being undercut by those who aren’t willing to make any sacrifices for it because it might upset those who are no longer with us.

There are more tangible reasons some opponents want to postpone construction. There’s an argument about how this telescope is being built in the “Conservation District” which requires a larger hurdle for the government to overcome before building anything on it, but they seem to have satisfied that criteria. There’s also the potential environmental impact, but the University of Hawaii says they’ve done the research and the risk just isn’t there:

There have been inaccurate claims made about the project recently. The most common is that TMT is a danger to the Maunakea aquifer and drinking water on Hawaii Island. Comprehensive research by expert hydrologists confirms that TMT and the existing 13 telescopes pose no such danger. Furthermore, TMT is designed to be a zero waste discharge facility with all waste securely transported off the summit. There is also very little precipitation above 8,000 feet and the observatories are located well above that at the top of Maunakea at 14,000 feet.

These, at least, are concerns worth taking seriously because they can be assessed and quantified — and they have been. This mountain is one of the few locations in the world where the telescope can be built and superstitious beliefs about its significance shouldn’t stand in the way of such a monumental feat of science and technology. The fact that other telescopes are already nearby is irrelevant (none of them has the power this one would).

Not that any of that matters to people who are dead set against the telescope:

Several activists are distrustful of the analyses that have been conducted, as well as statements by TMT officials. [Kahookahi] Kanuha even stopped a TMT construction worker Thursday to ask where he was going, and later followed him up the mountain to ensure he wasn’t working.

If we worked off of that logic, practically nothing could ever be built in Hawaii since so much of the land there is sacred to one group or another.

So help me out here, opponents. Why should the telescope be postponed indefinitely? I’m hard-pressed to find sensible reasons not to build it, given that scientists have already assessed the usual concerns and given it a green light.

(Image via Wikipedia. Thanks to Tater for the link)

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